Chapter XXX. The Daughter of the Church
 

"Thus the Ally has something for everybody."

Dan was right. Judge Strong could not afford to make public the facts connected with the young man's visit to him that evening. He could not afford it for more reasons than Dan knew. The arguments with which the minister had backed up his personal influence were stronger than he realized. The more the Judge thought about the whole matter the more he was inclined to congratulate himself that he had been saved from a step far more dangerous than he had ever before ventured. He saw where, in his desire to possess all, he had come perilously near losing everything. But these reflections did not make the Elder feel one whit kindlier towards Dan.

While the Judge was held both by his fear of Dan and by his own best interests, from moving openly against the man who had so effectually blocked his well-laid plans for acquiring another choice bit of Corinth real estate, there were other ways, perfectly safe, by which he might make the minister suffer.

Judge Strong had not been a ruling elder in the church for so many years without learning the full value of the spirit that makes Corinth its home.

While the Elder himself feared the Ally as he feared nothing else, he was a past master in the art of directing its strength to the gaining of his own ends. His method was extremely simple: the results certain.

When he learned of Hope's trip to Gordon's Mills and the long ride in the night alone with Dan, the Judge fairly hugged himself. It was all so easy!

In the two days preceding the next weekly meeting of the Ladies' Aid Society, it happened, quite incidentally, that the Elder had quiet, confidential talks with several of the most active workers in the congregation. The Judge in these talks did not openly charge the minister with wrong conduct, with any neglect of his duties, or with any unfaithfulness to the doctrines. No indeed! The Judge was not such a bungler in the art of directing the strength of the Ally in serving his own ends. But nevertheless, each good sister, when the interview was ended, felt that she had been trusted with the confidence of the very inside of the innermost circle; felt her heart swell with the responsibility of a state secret of vast importance; and her soul grow big with a righteous determination to be worthy.

That was a Ladies' Aid meeting to be remembered. There had been nothing like it since the last meeting of its kind. For of course, every sister who had talked with the Judge was determined that every other sister should understand that she was on the innermost inside; and every other sister who had talked with the Judge was equally fired with the same purpose; and the sisters who had not talked quietly with the Judge were extraordinarily active in creating the impression that they knew even more than those who had. So that altogether things were hinted, half revealed and fully told about Dan and Miss Farwell that would have astonished even Judge Strong himself, had he not known just how it would be.

The Sunday following it seemed almost as if Dan had wished to help the Judge in his campaign, for while there was much in his sermon about widows and orphans, there was not a word of the old Jerusalem gospel.

Monday evening Judge Strong and his wife called upon Elder Jordan and his family, and the two church fathers held a long and important conference, with the church mothers and the church daughter assisting.

The Judge said very little. Indeed he seemed reluctant to discuss the grave things that were being said in the community about their pastor. But it was easy to see that he was earnestly concerned for the welfare of the church and the upbuilding of the cause in Corinth. Nathan himself was led to introduce the subject. The Judge very skillfully and politely gave the women opportunities. He agreed most heartily with Elder Jordan that Dan's Christian character was above reproach, and that it was very unfortunate that there should be any criticism by the public. Such things so weakened the church influence in the community! He regretted, however, that their pastor in his sermons did not dwell more upon first principles and the fundamental doctrines of the church. His sermons were good, but the people needed to be taught the true way of salvation. Dan was young: perhaps he would learn the foolishness of taking up these new ideas of the church's mission and work, that were sapping the very foundations of Christianity.

Nathaniel Jordan, because of the very goodness of his heart and his deeply religious nature, had learned to love Dan, and to believe in him, even while he was forced--by his whole life's training--to question the wisdom of the young man's preaching. And while he was deeply pained by the things the sisters reported, he found, as the Judge intended, that Elder Strong's attitude was in close harmony with his own.

Thus the Ally has something for everybody. Those who did not doubt Dan's character questioned his preaching; and those who cared but little what he preached found much to question in his conduct.

But there was one in the company that evening who contributed nothing to the discussion, save now and then a word in defense of Dan. And everything that Charity said was instantly and warmly endorsed by the Judge.

When Judge and Mrs. Strong at last bade their friends good night and left Nathaniel and his wife to cultivate the seed the Ally had so skilfully planted, Charity retired at once to her room, but not to sleep. Not for nothing had this young woman been reared in such close touch with the inner circle of the ruling classes in Memorial Church. This was by no means the first conference of its kind that she had been permitted to attend. Her whole life experience enabled her to judge to a day, almost, the length of any minister's stay in Corinth. Few had stayed more than a year.

There was Rev. Swanson--who was too old; and Rev. Wilson--it was his daughter; and Rev. Jones--it was his wife; and Rev. George--it was his son; and it was Rev. Kern--who did not get on with the young people; and Rev. Holmes--who was too young, and got on with the young people too well. Charity always thought that she might have--. If he had only been permitted to stay another three months! And Rev. Colby--it was because he had neither wife nor sons nor daughters. Charity was sure she might have--. If only he had been given more time! And now--Dan!

The poor girl cried bitterly in the dark and in her tears determined upon desperate measures.